The only downside to cycling is that I'm always riding on roads built for motor vehicles, and those vehicles are typically 10-20 times heavier than I am, and moving 3-5 times faster than I am. If it were ever to come down to a direct contest between me and a motor vehicle over which of us gets to occupy a given hunk of space at a given time, I am a loser, every single time, and painfully so, if I'm even so lucky as to survive the encounter.
Fortunately, the area in which I live is, for the most part, a happy place in which to ride a bicycle. Paved, lightly-traveled back roads are plentiful and abundant, so I am not often perceived as being 'in the way' by the vehicle traffic, and there is also a fairly sizeable cycling population, so drivers are more-or-less used to encountering bicycles, and know how to account for our presence. The 'Rules of the Road' tell me I should ride 'as far to the right as practical', and, by and large, when I do that, the vehicle traffic and I get along just fine. So, happy-happy, and all that. . .
None of which is to say that the close proximity of large, fast, metallic vehicles and small, slow, soft, pedal-powered humans is devoid of danger. Not all of my fellow-citizens are quite so mellow as what I've described, when they encounter my two-wheeled self on a lightly-traveled country road. Especially when the road in question curves a bit, or includes a few hills, and the clear sight-lines aren't so long that a car can safely pass me without a second thought, there can be a certain 'Impatience Factor', and I try to be conscientious about paying attention to the 'time-costs' that my presence imposes on my fellow-travellers. As I crest a hill, I will always check the oncoming traffic situation as soon as I can, and, if the road is clear, I'll wave a car past me, well before he can see it with his own eyes. Likewise if someone is waiting behind me on a curve. I've had a few 'close calls', where a driver's impatience has nearly led to a 'traffic incident', such as an evasive maneuver when he tried to pass me without a clear sight-line, and an oncoming car suddenly appeared. Surprisingly few, though, all things considered.
Motorcyclists often complain that they're 'invisible' to four-wheeled traffic, and bicyclists are, if anything, even less visible than motorcyclists (and a lot less noisy). Because we're small, slow, and way off to the right, some drivers simply don't notice us (which is probably one of the reasons cycling clothing tends to be garishly brightly-colored). Once, I was riding past a residential subdivision, on a road commonly used by cyclists to make the transition from 'In Town' to the cornfields, when a car drove up from one of the neighborhood streets to my right, as it met the 'main' road upon which I was riding. In such situations, I try, if I possibly can, to make eye contact with the driver, to assure myself that he sees me, and has accounted for my presence. Something in this driver's behavior, though, made me uneasy (perhaps it was because the wheels never completely stopped rolling, and I saw the driver's head turn to look straight in my direction, yet the wheels continued to roll). I saw that the car was angling itself for a right turn, so I drifted out into the lane as I approached the intersection, prepared to cross over into the oncoming lane (which was safely clear), in case my worst fears were realized. Sure enough, the driver pulled out to make her right turn, right into the space I would have been occupying had I not moved over. Once the car had completed its turn, I was directly alongside the driver's window. With my hand, I thumped on the driver's window, startling her. She rolled down the window, her face flushed, and sputtered, "I didn't even see you." I could only shake my head. I mean, what could I say to that? "Pay attention!"?
The biggest problems I've had with cars, though, have tended to come from a set of drivers for whom my mere presence on the side of the road, even in the utter absence of any other traffic, is an affront to their sense of the order, balance and harmony of the Universe, or at least their own peace of mind, and to afford me even a few feet of clearance as they speed past, seems an outrageous imposition. I've had a few rear-view mirrors tickle the hairs on my left elbow, though none have actually made contact with me. I've been called a 'faggot' several times by toothless
A couple stories from my life on the road stand out in my memory.
The first was way back in 1984. Jen and I were on a tour that crossed Michigan's Lower Peninsula from west-to-east, carrying two-year-old 1F in a plastic kid-seat on the back of my bike. The tour began on a Sunday morning, in the city of South Haven. There were something on the order of 700 cyclists, slowly stringing ourselves out over the back roads heading inland from Lake Michigan. Early in the ride, our differences in speed hadn't had a chance to separate the riders very much, and for the first few miles, we were pretty much a continuous string of bikes, riding single-file along the right-hand edge of the pavement.
Suddenly, behind me, I heard a commotion. Checking my rear-view mirror (I've always had a rear-view mirror on my bike; I can't imagine being out among the vehicles without one), I saw a car barreling up, along the long file of cyclists. As it got closer, I heard the horn. The driver was leaning on his horn continuously, without let-up, as he made his way along the line of bikes. As he drew alongside me, I saw that the driver, and his wife in the passenger seat, and two teenaged sons in the back, were all dressed in their Sunday best, obviously on their way to church. And we were harshing his peace. As he passed me, I saw his left arm extended upward out the driver's-side window, sending us all the middle-finger salute, making sure that none of us missed his message.
Nothing classier than that, let me tell you. What a wonderful example you're setting for your sons; and your wife must be very proud, too. What church did you say you belong to? Anyway, say 'Hi' to God for me, OK, friend?
My other story happened a few years later. I was riding one of my regular routes near Our Town, south of the mega-university campus. That area, south of campus, is generally pretty congenial for cyclists. It's mostly research farms owned by the university, and the heavier-traveled roads through the area have paved shoulders (or 'bike lanes', if you prefer), which afford us three feet or so of ride-able space, without the vehicle traffic even having to swerve to avoid us.
On this particular day, though, I was riding on one of the 'lesser' roads. It was paved, but the shoulder was dirt/gravel, so I was hugging the white stripe marking the edge of the pavement. As is typically the case, there were hardly any cars on the road, anyway, and almost never two cars in both opposing lanes at the same time.
A carload of college students passed me, heading north, toward the main campus. They gave me a half-lane of clearance, which is entirely generous, so I thought nothing of it. A couple hundred yards ahead of me, they pulled off to the side of the road. Again, I thought nothing of it; perhaps they were lost, and needed to consult a map, or whatever.
As I rode on, they stayed on the side of the road, and before long, I was coming to the point where I would have to pull out into the lane to pass them, and I hoped that they remembered that I was there, and didn't pull out into me (or onto me) as I rode by.
When I was within ten yards or so of their rear bumper, just as I was preparing to swing around, suddenly the car lurched forward, spinning its rear tires and spraying me with dirt and gravel, honking the horn, its occupants laughing as they squealed their tires on down the pavement. In the gravel shower, I didn't even have the opportunity to get their plate number. (damn!) I have no idea what I might or might not have done to provoke such an attack, but that's probably about the worst behavior I've ever suffered at the hands of a driver.
So, all things considered, not too bad at all. . .